Photo courtesy USA TODAY Sports
The Nick Foles versus Case Keenum and Austin Westlake versus Abilene Wylie storylines may run deeper than a mere conference championship in the eyes of the Lone Star State and its multitude of football fanatics.
Watchful gazes will also be cast on 30-year-old Andrew Sendejo, an all-pro strong safety from Smithson Valley High School, 24-year-old David Morgan, a second-year tight end from the University of Texas-San Antonio and an alumnus of Marble Falls High School, and 34-year-old Brian Robison, a former all-state defensive tackle at Splendora High School with four sacks in 2017.
Haltom City’s Halapoulivaati Vaitai and Groveton’s Lane Johnson, too, will be focal points in protecting Roles from the NFL’s No. 2 rated defense and pass rushers like Everson Griffen and Danielle Hunter.

Players to Watch

Case Keenum, QB, Vikings

Former Abilene Wylie QB Case Keenum can lead the Minnesota Vikings to their first Super Bowl since 1996. Geoff Burke/USA TODAY Sports

Keenum’s road from journeyman quarterback to one of “Minnesota’s Miracle Men” has well documented, but he’ll have to pull another magic trick out of his sleeve to lead the Vikings to their first Super Bowl in 42 years.

He will also be better than his 25-for-40, 313-yard, one touchdown and one interception performance against New Orleans. The Eagle defense is for better than the one he faced against the Saints and a costly interception like the one he tossed in the NFC Divisional round could be a backbreaker rather than an afterthought.

If the running game proves stagnant in the early quarters, the Vikings will need Keenum to be more than a game manager. He will have to again don his magician’s cape and revert to what he was at the University of Houston — the NCAA all-time leader in total offense and TD passes.

Nick Foles, QB, Eagles

Foles will need to revert to his 2013 form, when he threw for 27 touchdowns and only two interceptions. Ed Szczepanski/USA TODAY Sports

While one Texas-bred quarterback may need to revert to his collegiate days, another will need to reach back into the history books to 2013.

Foles threw for 2,891 yards and an almost ridiculous 27-to-2 touchdown-to-interception ratio during his sophomore season in the NFL and after taking over the role for an injured Michael Vick. The then- Philadelphia quarterback rating (119.2) was the highest of his career, helping him guide eam to a 10–6 regular season record and its seventh NFC East title in 13 seasons.

Foles stepped in in Week 4 and didn’t throw an interception until Week 14.

The Eagles will need a blast from the past from a Austin-area star and its former third round pick to combat one of the most prolific defenses in the past three NFL seasons. Re-finding that magic could also send Philadelphia to its first Super Bowl since Donovan McNabb and Andy Reid lost to Tom Brady and Bill Belichick 24-21  in 2005 at Alltel Stadium.

Matchups to Watch

Former Smithson Valley DB Andrew Sendejo plucks an errant Drew Brees out of the air during the NFC Divisional playoff. USA Today Sports

Andrew Sendejo vs. Philadelphia’s receiving corps.

According to reports by ESPN, Sendejo will play if he clears final concussion protocol  suffered a concussion in last week’s divisional-round victory over New Orleans.

Per NFL Network National Insider Ian Rapoport, Sendejo is expected to play Sunday.

Given the Eagles at the wideout positions, specifically in Alshon Jeffery, Nelson Algor and Zach Ertz, Minnesota will need the Smithson Valley alum — even if its only at 70 percent. As a unit, the Vikings’ secondary has allowed 192 pass yards per game (11th in the NFL) and helped limit opposing offenses to 15.8 points per game (first in the NFL).

Sendejo’s role in the box, though, goes far beyond just playing centerfielder on a championship caliber defense. His 54 tackles have been key in each of the Vikings’ 13 victories, but his ability to threaten both the pass and run was on display during the Minnesota’s 17-0 head start against the Saints last week.

His interception of Drew Brees, too, was a vital part on the Vikings appearance in the NFC Championship.

Forcing the Eagles toward a run game led by LaGarrette Blount and Jay Ajayi  and subsequent one-dimensionality could unlock a Super Bowl berth for Minnesota. Limiting the effect of Foles’ accuracy and Jeffery’s game-changing catch radius could do the same.

Sendejo could be one of the keys that opens that door.

Vaitai will have to improve his pass blocking if the Eagles hope to contain two of the NFL’s best pass rushers — Everson Griffen and Danielle Hunter. USA TODAY Sports

Minnesota ends Everson GriffenDanielle Hunter vs. Eagles tackles Lane JohnsonHalapoulivaati Vaitai.

During the 2016 and 2017 seasons, Griffen and Hunter have amassed compiling 21 sacks — which is top 13 during that timeframe. While Johnson has been sterling in 15 games, Vaitai has good but beatable. He’s given up nine sacks, which is tied for second most among all offensive tackles, per Pro Football Focus.

The offensive line has allowed five sacks in his seven games under center.

With Foles’ limited mobility, both will have to slow the slow the pass rush and open holes for runners to allow their quarterback breathing room to find slot receivers in defensive gaps and long, rangy receivers like Alshon Jefferey down the field for long gains. The former Westlake Chapparal is averaging 5.3 yards per pass attempt with Philadelphia, the lowest in his six-year career.

His touchdown-to-interception ratio (5 to 2) is the worst it’s been since the end of his first stint with the Eagles. Foles threw 13 TD’s and 10 interceptions in 2014.

Prediction

The road to Titletown won’t be easy for Minnesota but it may be destined.

With Wentz, a sophomore sensation with rocket-armed accuracy and running-back lite mobility, the conclusion has a much different end. With Foles, the Eagles see the mountain top but don’t take it. With Sendejo watching the back end and Griffen and Hunter sapping time on each snap, the Vikings’ defense may be one of the best the NFL has ever seen.

It will lead the state of Minnesota to a matchup with either Jacksonville or New England at home at U.S. Bank Stadium — its first Super Bowl appearance since  1976.

Minnesota Vikings 31, Philadelphia Eagles 28

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Marcus Matthews-Marion is the managing editor of TexasHSFootball, covering prep football throughout the Lone Star State and collegiate and professional football throughout the country. Follow him on Twitter, @TheMJMatthews, and read more of his content here.

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